<If I stop to think about it, this whole thing is totally insane.>
<Risking my life…>
<...as crazy as it sounds…>
<....for the first time I can remember…>
<...I feel like I’m in control.>
Rori Lane, Ayane, Shirai, and Nikaido are not your average teenagers—in fact, they are superheroes. Among them, these teens have the ability to consume spirits, control emotions, transform matter, commune with cats, and manipulate the very threads of space time and destiny. They are a new breed of superhero, but not in the traditional American or Western convention—they are more like young Gods, detecting their place in a Japan that teems with energy, yōkai, and urban growth and decay.
In the exceptional first arc of Wayward (collecting issues 1-5) by Jim Zub and illustrated by Steve Cummings, Rori Lane is introduced as a teenager struggling in the aftermath of her parents’ divorce. Moving to Tokyo to live with her Japanese mother after a failed year of trying to live alone with her Caucasian father in Ireland, Rori struggles as an outsider in her new home. Although she can speak Japanese and enrolls in high school, adjusting to life in Tokyo is difficult—especially when Rori starts seeing red threads of power. By following these threads, Rori finds others with abilities like her own: cat daughter Ayane, ghost-eater Shirai, and powerful manipulator Nikaido. This group of superpowered misfits band together under Rori’s leadership and take on the yōkai, who prowl the dark streets and forgotten tunnels of Tokyo, and whose fates are intrinsically tied to Rori and her friends.
In the second arc of Wayward (collecting issues 6-10), Rori Lane and Shirai are missing—presumed dead by everyone, including an enraged Ayane and an emotionally sealed-off Nikaido. A newcomer, Ohara Emi, joins the ranks in this second arc and is the main focal character. She is very different from the other heroes in Wayward. She is very proper and quiet, following all the rules and conventions, resigned to her destiny as a nice responsible young student who will go to university to meet a nice responsible young man and settle down to become a wife and mother. Though Emi compares herself to a cute, delicate toy manufactured to fit inside a perfect, tiny plastic bubble, she is so much more than a cog in the wheel: she possesses the ability to manipulate man-made matter, like glass, concrete, and iron. Emi is hunted by the yōkai and finds herself drawn into Ayane and Nikaido’s ongoing battle to push back against the creatures that have killed their friends; for the first time ever, Emi begins to feel like she has control over her life, her decisions, and her destiny.
As Emi and her new friends take on the yōkai—including the same seersucker-suited demon behind the attacks and epic showdown in the end of Wayward’s first arc, and aided by new possible friend or foe, spider-mistress Jorōgumo—a new pattern begins to emerge in Rori’s red threads of power.
And it’s really, really cool.
Just as in Wayward Volume 1, this second half of the Wayward arc explores the fantastical and supernatural, but is rooted in real human experience (through the eyes of teenage outsiders), in a real place, and using real cultural touchstones and histories. Also, very importantly, this story is not exoticizing or appropriative of Japanese culture or setting. I cannot stress how important this is, as well as the level of care Zub imbues in his storytelling and character arcs. This is not shiny-weird-neon-Tokyo-with-Westerners-playing-hero; it’s the Tokyo that people actually live in, complete with teenagers who try to conform to society’s rules and expectations (Emi), and those who sit outside of its comfortable restrictions (Ayane). The one slightly jarring thing transitioning from the first half of the story to the second was the change in protagonist, as Rori is gone and presumed dead and the story instead focuses on Ohara Emi. The format flirts with nonlinear storytelling, particularly when Rori and Shirai return, and as Rori awakens to the full extent of her powers, the larger picture comes to light through the threads Rori can see and manipulate. Issue 10 ends on a seriously epic note, and I cannot wait to read more.
A note on editions: while I’m focusing on the second arc of Wayward in particular, the edition I reviewed is a deluxe bind-up edition containing issues 1-10 (volumes 1 and 2 of the graphic novels), released this past fall. This edition also contains essays from Zack Davisson on his experience as a teacher in Japan, profiles of different yōkai (Japanese demons and supernatural creatures) in the book, as well as detailed histories and explanations of everything ranging from Obon (the festival of the dead) to the subways and underground tunnels of Tokyo to the etymology of ground-spiders (rooted in the invasion and displacement of the aboriginal people of Japan many centuries ago). In other words: the back matter is a beautiful compliment to Rori and Emi’s story. AND it also includes a ton of sweet alternate covers and some commentary from Cummings on the art behind the book, including this riff on Totoro, "My Neighbor Wayward"—a poster I desperately need in my apartment right now.
Just as with the first volume, this omnibus edition is not to be missed. Though it’s pricey, it’s totally worth shelling out the cash. This deluxe edition is beautiful, and if you’re a Wayward fan, you’re going to want this hardcover collectible.
In Book Smugglerish: 9 dirt spiders out of 10.